Sunday 18 March 2018

If we knew then what we know now, would we still do it?

Katy McGuinness
Katy McGuinness

Katy McGuinness

If we knew then what we know now, would we still do it? There's a question.

You'd think that when someone writes about property for a living they'd know all that there is to know about buying and selling houses. But it's a funny old market out there these days, and the one thing that I know for sure after spending more than a year in the trenches of the Dublin housing market - actually buying and selling rather than just writing about it - is that that no one knows anything.

I have, however, picked up a few insights along the way.

The first is that it will take much longer than you think it will. We started getting our house ready to sell a full year before it went on the market. We painted the house inside and out, re-carpeted, and took care of all the niggling little jobs that go on the long finger when you're just getting on with the business of living.

We re-hung our paintings, got rid of furniture that didn't suit the more considered aesthetic of the lifestyle we were keen to project to potential buyers, de-cluttered and rented our first storage unit. My cousin, Aidan, is in the storage unit business and gave us a good deal - the first four months came at a 50pc discount. I was sure we would never progress to the full rate. Cue hollow laugh.

We were convinced that the first person who walked into our house would want to buy it and would immediately make an offer of the asking price and then some, in order to pre-empt the hordes of other would-be purchasers. This turned out not to be the case and, although there were plenty of false dawns along the way, it took almost a year from the time that we put the house on the market to the time that the sale closed.

This is not an uncommon situation at the moment - and it could happen to you. Be forewarned.

Among the reasons that people viewing the house - a three-storey-over-basement Victorian property on an intact terrace in south county Dublin - gave as reasons for not wanting to make an offer were: it was too big, it was not big enough, the ceilings were too high, the garden was too small, there were too many stairs, there was no off-street parking and it was too far from the city centre.

The principal reason that property transactions take so long to close these days is the difficulty with mortgage financing that affects every tier of the market. Fine, upstanding people with good incomes are having terrible trouble getting mortgages and the pace at which the lending institutions move is glacial, so if a cash buyer is showing interest in your house, do not stint on the amount of bending over backwards that you do to facilitate them.

If you are in a chain, things can and do go wrong all the time. Brexit happened just as we were about to exchange on our sale, and that was responsible for more than a few sleepless nights (to add to the hundreds that we accumulated over the course of the year that the house was on the market) as somebody further up the chain was based abroad. Anecdotally, I have heard of several transactions that were on the verge of exchange that have collapsed in Brexit's wake, with the vendors back to square one. Talk to some people and they'll tell you that Brexit is good for sellers - with all those City of London types heading this way - and others that it isn't. The truth is that no one knows yet what Brexit means for the market here.

The second insight that I take away from this experience is that you will always think that your house is worth more than it is. Of course you will - it's your home and it looks better now than it ever has in all the years that you've lived in it. Listen to the little voice that tells you that this is not the Antiques Roadshow, and do your best to moderate your expectations. Certainly, it's not prudent to go shopping for your new home until you know what you're going to get for your old one.

(By way of an aside, I have learnt that not everyone buys houses with their hearts, as we do. Some people are very sensible and ask to see utilities bills. We, on the other hand, fall in love and figure out how to deal with the utilities later.)

The third insight is that it costs a lot of money to move. Never mind the estate agents and the lawyers, keeping your home in sale-ready condition is an expensive business, what with all those fresh flowers and diffusers, the laundering of bed linen, the cleaners from on stand-by and the brunches out while viewings are underway. Let no one tell you otherwise, viewings are hell and make everyone grumpy. Then there's the cost of renting somewhere to live while you find your new home or wait for it to be ready to move in to.

So, is it all going to be worth it, when we finally get into the new house? I'll tell you when we're in, and have had our first night under its newly repaired roof.

Katy McGuinness, property writer and recent house buyer/seller

Sunday Independent

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